Textbooks aren’t the only way to pass historical knowledge to your children. In fact, in many ways, they are the least effective method. To really dive deep and become familiar with other times and places, it’s important to include good history books for reading aloud in your homeschool.
Whether fiction or non-fiction, reading aloud gives you the opportunity to experience history together and bring different perspectives to your studies.
Historical fiction transports us to a different time and gives us insight into what it was like to live in different eras. Non-fiction living history books allow us to gain facts and information without being bored by the endless list of dates.
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World War History Books for Reading Aloud
The twentieth century presents us with many difficult topics to convey to our children, and few can surpass the stories of the first world wars. These are difficult subjects because although they are over, or close to over, 100 years ago, they are still fresh in our cultural psyche.
My grandparents were raised through the depression and served during World War II. This isn’t some long-ago ancient tale that almost takes on a fairytale-like quality. In the span of human history, this might as well have been yesterday.
Therefore, finding quality history books for reading aloud is so important because it brings this era to life for your children, and Candlewick Press is always a wonderful source for quality books on all topics. With so much rich literature available, why default to a boring textbook?
Living Books for World War I
World War I was always given an abbreviated mention in school since it falls between the Civil War and World War II. The most I could remember is that a primary impetus for it was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand.
Then Downton Abbey gave me a bit of perspective on World War I and the horrors of this great war. So when choosing books for our history read alouds, I was happy to see these two great titles that bring this somewhat forgotten period to life.
The Great War
The Great War is an interesting book because it is an unusual collection of fictional short stories inspired by actual objects from World War I. Each of the 11 original short stories in this collection was inspired by an object connected to the First World War.
The vivid black-and-white illustrations by illustrator Jim Kay reinforces the dark mood and concentrated power of the stories. This book is both beautifully designed and beautifully written.
Since there are no living World War I veterans who can tell their stories, this collection brings the emotional devastation of one of the bloodiest wars in history as close to some readers as possible. It is also unique in how it blends fiction and non-fiction, taking original items from a real war and conveying their story through fiction.
The Great War would be an interesting read for any history buff and would certainly be an unusual addition to your World War I studies.
The Button War by Avi
From the renowned author, Avi, The Button War is a complicated yet compelling tale of a group of boys. The boys find their village at the center of the struggle between Germany and Russia to control Poland during World War I. This was interesting to me since my husband’s grandmother immigrated from Poland between the two World Wars.
Since the jacket draws a connection between this book and Lord of the Flies, I decided it would be best to first read this book myself. It is not as graphic as I anticipated with that description, but it does have some darker elements.
It’s set in a small Polish village occupied by the Russians and revolves around a small group of 12-year-old boys, and when Germans attack their village, chaos ensues.
However, in this mayhem, the boys become focused on a game contrived by the bully of the group. The game is to steal the best button from a soldier’s uniform. On the surface, that may sound innocuous enough, but the determination of the unhinged bully turns this into a deadly game.
I won’t tell you the entire story since I did think The Button War is an excellent book but will caution not to read it to young or sensitive children. However, if you have a pre-teen or older son who typically hates mom’s book choices, this may be a great option. Pre-read if you’re concerned over the subject matter, but this could spark some great discussion about courage, doing what’s right even when it’s hard, and the difficulty of being a follower.
History Read Alouds for World War II
Read aloud’s focusing on World War II abound, but there is always room to dust off the reading list and find a new gem to add to your homeschool. Perhaps for no other reason than mom needs a new title to read and discuss after years with the same books.
So let’s find some new World War II stories to draw your children into the time period and keep you interested.
Voices from the Second World War
Voices from the Second World War is a fantastic non-fiction collection of first-hand stories in which witnesses of World War II tell their stories to children reporters of the UK based newspaper First News.
Filled with photographs and first hand accounts of life during the Second World War, this is best suited for middle schoolers and beyond.
What I found so interesting as I read these stories was how much humanity came through when a person is giving an account of their experience. It was like I was there with the young Polish officer trying to make his way to France and England. His personality shined through.
However, there were other stories I couldn’t comprehend. The separation of children from their families as their parents tried to protect them from the Blitz had a lasting impact on these families. Many stories conveyed the difficulty children had returning to their parents after years away, and a childhood built away from them.
Voices from the Second World War is an exceptional volume of stories from all those impacted by World War II. From the holocaust survivor to the prisoners of war, you will hear from all sides and all experiences.
Dolls of War
Inspired by the 58 Japanese friendship dolls that were exchanged with Japan in the 1920’s, Dolls of War brings to life the story of Macy, Miss Tokyo, and World War II.
The Immigration Act of 1924 prohibited East Asians from immigrating to the United States, which caused increased tensions between the two countries. To ease these tensions, missionary Dr. Sidney Gulick decided to promote goodwill between the countries by sending dolls to Japan. In 1927, the United States sent 12,379 dolls, which were exhibited at the annual Hinamatsuri doll festival.
To reciprocate the gift, Elichi Shibusawa organized the commission of Japan’s best doll makers to produce dolls that were representative of different Japanese cities and regions. The dolls were sent to museums and libraries throughout the United States to be displayed.
In Dolls of War, Miss Tokyo is part of the collection in a small museum on the Oregon coast. Macy’s father is the director of the museum who comes under pressure to destroy Miss Tokyo after the Japanese bomb Pearl Harbor.
Yet, Macy loves Miss Tokyo and the connection it holds to her recently deceased mother. Against her father’s wishes, she hides Miss Tokyo, but as the war unfolds she begins to question her loyalty to to doll.
Dolls of War is third in The Friendship Dolls Series by Shirley Parenteau, which is inspired by the dolls exchanged between the United States and Japan in the 1920s.
On Snowden Mountain
On Snowden Mountain is the story of Ellen and her mother as they deal with the struggles of home while her father is away fighting in World War II.
As her mother’s depression becomes more than they can handle, Ellen reaches out to her Aunt Pearl in a desperate attempt to seek help. They soon find themselves away from their city home and adjusting to small-town life.
The change is difficult, but Ellen perseveres and begins to build a life at her new home on Snowden Mountain. On Snowden Mountain is a great historical fiction for reading aloud that would probably be most interesting to your middle school-aged girls, which I have a few.
The Orphan Band of Springdale Street
If you love or have spunky girls, The Orphan Band of Springdale Street is a book you definitely want to give a try. Augusta, better known as Gusta, is from New York but moves to Maine to live with her maternal grandmother. She must do so because her father is a union organizing German immigrant who is on the run and her mother doesn’t make enough money to care for her.
So Gusta finds herself at the home run by her grandmother, whom she has never met. She came with only one possession, the french horn, which is her sole connection to her father.
Even though parts of the story focus on uncomfortable topics, Nesbet has an upbeat quality that makes her story both unique and attractive. You’ll appreciate her well-rounded characters and the small but highly engaging antagonists.
Nesbet also incorporates factual information from the period to highlight relevant issues such as injustice, immigration, and the labor movement, which makes The Orphan Band of Springdale is a heartwarming and educational read.
Engaging History Books for Reading Aloud
The benefits of reading aloud are endless, but the dearest is the time we spend sharing the experience of a great book with our children. It may seem more efficient to assign a textbook reading and get down to the facts, but we miss so much depth when we do so.
In the scope of our children’s lives, little will be gained by memorizing dates and rattling off battles. What will add insight is the broad scope of living in a specific period of time. With this knowledge, our children can draw conclusions about their own time in history, and by reading aloud, we occupy our place in their memory.